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Three-Down Back: A trio of things to watch for against the Los Angeles Rams

Is this a David v. Goliath story, or something much more believable?

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

So we are finally here. The highly-anticipated match-up between the Chargers and the Rams.

The very first, legitimate installment of the #FightForLA.

Are you ready? Because I don’t know if I am.

I really wish that both teams were able to come into this game with unblemished records. That definitely would have pushed the stakes to an even higher level. Unfortunately, the Chargers come in at 1-1 and are officially a full touchdown underdog to the red-hot Rams.

I recently made an appearance on the radio out in San Diego during the Mark and Rich Show on XTRA 1360. These are always very short bits and I only get asked a few questions whenever I’m on. The first question this time around was very simple:

“Is it surprising that the Chargers are underdogs by an entire touchdown?”

I told them no, it really isn’t. The Chargers haven’t looked too bad so far, but the Rams have been that much more dominant.

Their second question was based off my answer from the first question:

“If it’s not a surprise, do the Chargers even have a chance?”

I said yes, they do. And without giving it all away and making this post irrelevant, let’s take a look at what i’ll be keeping a close eye on when the teams of LA collide.

1.) OC Ken Whisenhunt must take advantage of mismatches with RBs Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler.

When you glance at the Rams’ defense, there are TONS of stud players. Cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Marcus Peterson, safety Lamarcus Joyner, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and — oh right, arguably the best player in the NFL regardless of position, Aaron flippin’ Donald.

In terms of star-power, alone, this looks like the best defense in the NFL. However, there is one area in which the Rams lack consistent play: the linebackers.

When we juxtapose the Chargers’ offense with the Rams’ defense, the area where the Chargers excel fits nicely where the Rams have shortcomings.

I believe if the Chargers hope to consistently move the ball down the field against that stacked defense, Philip Rivers will have to utilize the athleticism of Gordon and Ekeler in mismatches, especially in the redzone, which he has shown a propensity for so far this season.

2.) Can the Chargers’ run defense continue their strong start to the season with Todd Gurley staring back at them?

In their first game of the year, the Chargers defense was able to hold last season’s rushing leader, Kareem Hunt, to just 49 yards on 16 carries.

The following week, they were able to limit LeSean McCoy’s carries by running up the score and causing the veteran to only receive nine totes which he turned into just 39 rushing yards.

This week, the Bolts get Todd Gurley who was a candidate for league MVP just a season ago. In the season opener, Gurley looked like his usual self. He got a hefty 20 carries and turned them into 108 yards while catching three passes for 39 yards and a score.

In last week’s match-up against the Arizona Cardinals. Gurley received another 19 carries, but only found enough running room to turn it into 42 rushing yards. The silver-lining, though? He still scored three touchdowns on the ground.

Luckily for the Chargers, although the defense has been far from stout in between the 20’s, they’ve always shown a knack for buckling down when they feel the shadow of their end zone against their backs.

3.) Can Philip Rivers overcome his demons when he faces off against former-AFC West cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters?

In Peters’ last three games against the Chargers as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs, he picked off Rivers four times dating back to the end of the 2016 regular season.

Talib, on the other hand, hasn’t intercepted a Philip Rivers pass in years but he was a part of the vaunted “No Fly Zone” in Denver that gave the entire NFL fits for a number of years. If I remember correctly, Rivers had a hard time just getting to the 200 yard passing mark anytime he faced the Broncos.

So the theme is simple here. Rivers is about to face a pair of players that he hasn’t found success against in quite some time.

Will Rivers be able to overcome the presence of these two defenders and show the city of Los Angeles that he’s not going to be haunted anymore by the ghosts of his past?